Has it ever struck you as a little odd that in a country with a Thirteenth Amendment that outlaws “involuntary servitude of any kind”,there’s also a “Selective Service” system that forces men, on pain of imprisonment or death, to join the military whether they want to or not?
Have you ever wondered why, in a country with a First Amendment that forbids abridging freedom of speech or of the press, there’s also a “Federal Communications Commission” wholly dedicated to doing just that and happy to fine you if you use words it doesn’t want you to use?
Have you ever been puzzled (or outraged) that in a country with a Second Amendment that strictly forbids infringement of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”, there’s an entire federal bureau built to do exactly that? Or 20,000 lesser statutes and ordinances — the very kind of thing that used to be called “Jim Crow laws” — written to do the same? A major legal and academic cottage industry whose function seems to be making up phony justifications for doing it? And a “free press” striving implacably — under cover of the First Amendment — to obliterate the freedoms supposedly protected by the Second?
These are just three out of thousands upon thousands of examples I might have chosen to write about, in which the laws that we imagined were there to control the government, or the rights that we imagined we possessed, always seem to evaporate, somehow, in the harsh light of reality.
It kind of makes all of the blather we hear about “law and order” ring hollow, don’t you think? Sure, illegal immigrants (just to name a single group at random) violate the law every time they step across the border, but in exactly what way does that make them different from any American president, senator, or congressman you can think of, any governor or legislator, any commissioner, mayor, or city councilman since at least 1912? And tell me why should those dependent on medical marijuana (just to name another group at random) respect the laws when the very individuals who write, pass, and enforce them clearly refuse to?
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in an America where all these government entities were compelled, not just to obey the letter and the spirit of the law — beginning with the highest law of the land, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights — but to energetically and stringently _enforce_ it, starting with those who work in and for the government itself?
Many libertarian and conservative thinkers have made estimates of how much of today’s government would go away under the rule of law and how much would remain. Walter Williams, for example, has often said that about two thirds of the federal government’s current operations — which are supposed to be severely limited under Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution, but are not — are illegal. Applying that and other standards, I’m inclined to think the number is closer to nine tenths.
But none of that gives you any idea of what everyday life would be like under circumstances like that. New Age thinking (and a lot of old age thinking, as well) advises us to clearly visualize our goals as a large step toward achieving them. And despite the vital importance of understanding the limits that the Constitution was supposed to impose on the size and power of the government, simply imagining what it might be like, say, to go to the corner grocery store for a loaf of bread (and how that might differ from doing the same thing in the world we live in today) is probably more useful. That, more or less, is what I have dedicated my own life and career to: helping my readers to imagine — in 3-D, living color, and high-definition — exactly the kind of civilization we are struggling every day to bring into existence.
One of my fairly recent exercises in that area is a book I wrote with my friend Aaron Zelman called Hope, in which, through a chain of unlikely but perfectly possible events, a hardworking self-made millionaire finds himself elected to the presidency of the United States.
Alexander Hope is a strict Constitutionalist who believes that the government ought to obey its own rules. He’s also a libertarian who understands that no one — not even the government — has a right to initiate force against anyone for any reason. This is not a pacifist position — far from it — but an absolute determination, from basic principles, that the only moral justification for using violence is self-defense.
One by one, Hope confronts the contradictions mentioned above (and many others) and does his best, as President, to resolve them in a manner that’s consistent with the law and common decency. His handling of homesteaders and public lands — or the legality of the income tax — is worth the price of admission alone. Naturally, he generates many enemies who often fight back and make his term in office an exciting adventure.
As a Constitutionalist, Hope knows that every gun law ever written anywhere in the United States is illegal, because it represents an infringement on the unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human right of every man, woman, and responsible child to obtain, own, and carry, openly or concealed, any weapon — rifle, shotgun, handgun, machinegun, _anything_ — any time, any place, without asking anyone’s permission. He also sees that it’s insane to claim that the government may regulate a right first written into the Constitution to contol the goverment.
As a libertarian, Hope knows that it’s wrong to forbid or to take away any weapon from anyone who hasn’t used it first to hurt somebody else.
Okay, if you’re not used to thinking this way (I’ve been doing it for 43 years), some of the results may seem a bit jarring and bizarre at first. Although politicians mouth the word “freedom” all the time, thousands of time a year, most of us have grown so accustomed to the virtual slave collars around our necks — taxation, various kinds of regulation, conscription — we have no concept of what it means to be free.
But if you stick with me, I believe you’ll come to see that it’s “all of a piece”, that freedom truly is indivisible — that if you lose one of them, you’re in dire peril of losing them all — and that believing otherwise is one of the great mistakes that got us into this mess. Ultimately, there’s really only one human right: the right not to be menaced, manhandled, or molested, either by governments or other individuals.
It’s true that occasionally we may disapprove of the way that some individuals choose to use their freedom (even though the operative phrase here is their freedom). The mass media, who are not our friends, delight in focusing on certain individuals — Howard Stern, Heidi Fleiss, Paris Hilton, who may exercise their rights in manners that passing fashion causes many ordinary people to dislike — as an attack, not on any particular individual, but on the concept of rights itself.
Because of that, people sometimes let themselves be stampeded into making laws — or demanding that they be made — that give idiots and thugs … sorry, I meant politicians and bureaucrats — the power to try and impose limits on the way those certain individuals use their rights. However those certain individuals are often rich and powerful, themselves, and are therefore able to evade those limits. Invariably, the idiots and thugs abuse the power they’ve unwisely been given, and turn it back on the ordinary people who have foolishly given it to them.
Alcohol Prohibition in the 20s, gun control at least since the 30s, and the War on Drugs being waged right now, fit that description precisely. They have done vastly greater damage to our civilization (through excessive taxation to support the government’s illegal efforts, through the destruction of immense amounts of private property, through the injury and death of innumerable individuals, innocent and otherwise, and especially through the steady erosion of protections supposedly afforded by the Bill of Rights) than alcohol, guns, or drugs ever threatened to do.
Anyone with even half a brain should be able to see clearly by now that we’re much better off simply letting other people do whatever it is they want with their own lives, no matter how irrational and self-destructive it may seem to us, as long as it doesn’t directly injure anybody else. And please note that I am not talking about “mental anguish” or any other such malarky, but real, physical damages.
The first person who brings up “the children” gets a philosophical pie in the face. I’m fed up to here with “the children” being used as an excuse for any kind of vile excess the idiots and thugs feel like imposing on us. What “the children” need most is freedom, not tyranny.
What would it be like to live under the Rule of Law instead of the continual pressure of hysterical voters and the constant oppression of bullies? It starts with what you might call a “freedom state of mind”. I once defined a decent society as one in which two guys pass each other on the sidewalk — one is bundled up in fur like an Eskimo, the other is completely naked — and as they pass, neither thinks about clothes.
In the real world, unfortunately, the situation has only gotten worse since I conceived that definition. Today, the naked guy is likely to be ignored as screaming hordes of animal rights crazies attack the fur-covered Eskimo guy with picket signs and red spray paint.
There are some people to whom images like this will be offensive and infuriating. It’s obvious from their writings, for example, that would-be Supreme Court jurist Robert Bork and former drug czar William Bennett find the thought of unfettered individual liberty physically painful. Some people hate and fear the idea of freedom simply because it’s far too much work making their own decisions and taking care of themselves. (William Bennett is a gambler who is said to have lost millions.)
Some of us, however, will recognize that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. While perhaps concerned about the extreme consequences of total freedom, we must allow other people to control their lives as the price of being allowed by others to control our own. The argument that certain people need to be controlled has been used so often as an excuse to deprive us of so many of our individual freedoms that we can hardly imagine being back in the driver’s seat of our own lives once again.
It’s vitally important, however, that we try.